Betting on the scales of justice: you win either way.
The aftermath of the Casey Anthony murder acquittal in Florida has left me in a deeper funk than I would have anticipated.
Tabloid, cable-news topics such as the disappearance and murder of Anthony's two-year-old daughter, Caylee, often get lost in the flood of such events nationally. Several thousand young children are killed violently each year in the United States by family members, boyfriends, and parents. Thousands more do not die but are severely injured and abused.
The Anthony case, however, personalized this mayhem and forced itself on the attention of a country perhaps inured to it.
The act itself was deplorable. Casey Anthony, the child's mother, for 31 days told a series of lies to her parents, brother, law enforcement officers, and others about her child's disappearance. She falsely accused others of roles in the disappearance. Her attorney suggested in his opening statement that Caylee had drowned in a home-pool accident and that Casey's father, George Anthony, had played some role in disposing of his granddaughter's body — found tossed in nearby woods with mouth and nose taped. There were indications that she had been chloroformed before the duct tape was applied. Casey Anthony had searched the internet in previous days researching chloroform. Traces of chloroform also were found in her automobile trunk, from which odors of body decay had emanated over a several-day period.
Casey Anthony's attorney, Jose Baez, not only suggested the unsupported drowning theory but also George Anthony's alleged rolein the aftermath. He also suggested that Casey had been molested both by her father and her brother. No supporting evidence was provided for these allegations. During the 31-day period Casey Anthony had mainly partied, participated in a Hot Body competition, and gotten a "Bella Vita" tattoo, presumably celebrating her newfound freedom. (Not admitted in court was information regarding her past major thefts of money from her parents and information indicating DNA tests had been taken on a large number of men, including her father and brother, without determining the identity of Caylee's father). Her several-million in attorneys' fees were paid by an anonymous benefactor.
Her attorney, Baez, presented a disjointed, disorganized case on his client's behalf. It was filled with accusations regarding the character and veracity of her parents and witnesses and with unsupported speculations figuratively thrown against the courtroom wall. The prosecution, by contrast, gave a tight, fact-filled presentation leading to the conclusion that only Casey Anthony could have committed the murder. Talking-head TV analysts generally lauded the prosecution's professionalism and decried Baez' floudering, although he rallied slightly with a tighter closing presentation — one still lacking any effective rebuttal to the state's case.
The jury's unanimous not-guilty verdict, except for four counts of lying to police, was stunning.
Particularly distasteful, afterward, were new talking-head statements finding weaknesses not previously seen in the prosecution's case and making pious defenses of the trial-by-jury system. The defense team threw a party for itself in a nearby restaurant. Thehard-working prosecutors were not allowed to speak to the press. Instead their boss, an elected county prosecutor, and the elected police chief got some TV face time for themselves. None of the 12 jurors spoke afterward to the media. The presiding judge, it turns out, had counseled them not to do so. A couple of the alternates did speak for the record, however. One said the jury might have been swayed by the fact that Baez was friendly toward jury members and started each day in court with a friendly greeting to them. Another's statements made clear that he really had not been listening to the testimony or examining the evidence. Media covering the trial noted that a couple jurors consistently dozed off in the jury box. It also was noted that the judge had forced the prosecution to accept two or three jurors who clearly were unsuited to their responsibility.
You can write all this off, of course, as just another "Law and Order" episode. Sometimes justice is done, sometimes not; sometimes malefactors lie, are believed by juries, and get away free. Better that they do than an innocent person be unfairly convicted.
Yet, if you watched the trial, it was hard not to come away with sadness and disgust about what had happened. In the O.J. Simpson trial, at least, you could rationalize that racial factors had colored jurors' judgment. In the Anthony trial, there were no such complicating factors. All evidence presented pointed inexorably to the fact that the defendant had, with forethought, murdered her child; thrownher body into nearby woods; told one incredible lie after another to explain her daughter's disappearance; and, then, had attempted to place blame on imaginary persons or her own family members.
Now she walks, no doubt to offers of lucrative talk-show appearances or book contracts. Down the road she could run afoul of the law again and/or end up dancing in a Las Vegas strip-club cage. Or she could end up on a People magazine cover, another celebrity making a new life after "mistakes" that had held her back as a younger woman. Perhaps she will marry and have another child.
Her mother's, father's, and brother's lives have been shattered. They clearly must leave their Orlando neighborhood. Lawsuits against Casey Anthony and her attorney could be forthcoming from persons falsely accused or characterized in court. In time the whole thing will fade from public memory.
Considering my own reaction, I realize that I am outraged not only by the Anthony verdict but by all kinds of recent events in American society that violate fundamental rules of fair play: The malfeasance and greed of the Wall Street speculators who damaged so many ordinary people, only to return to snarky business-as-usual after their rescue by taxpayers; the cynicism of elected officials and private-sector leaders who are playing self-interested games with the present attempt to address our country's serious financial and economic problems; the often disgusting news-slanting and biases expressed by print and electronic media which are supposed to be guardians of truth and fairness; lives and money being expended in military interventions where no American vital interests are involved: and, yes, the tragedies being played out daily in other court casesnot receiving the attention which the Anthony case received.
Where is justice? Where is our sense of community and of our responsibility to each other? Good questions after celebrating another anniversary of our nationhood.